USA Today, December 28, 2005
Alter window on our world
From TV to pop culture, negativity is the name of the game. It's a game that
my girls need not play
And now for a confession: I officially believe
in Creation. Not the Biblical concept. The
Formed two years ago by six New York City
fifth-graders hooked on the high of
expressing themselves through song,
Creation quickly grew past the garage-racket
phase, ultimately deciding that they needed
more of a message to their music. They soon
found one, courtesy of the We Are Family
Foundation, a non-profit organization that
promotes "diversity, understanding, respect
and multiculturalism," primarily among
make its mission their own, declaring the collaboration "a great way for us to help."
release of their debut album, World Without Windows. On behalf of their "brothers
and sisters...around the world," the band has earmarked 100% of the proceeds
from the sale of the CD to building a school in an undereducated community in
Africa; and sponsoring travel by American students to foreign lands, in order to
build a bridge between youth of different cultures.
As uplifting as it is to read about this, it's also distressing to note how rarely a
positive story about kids gets play these days. After all, when it comes to getting the
scoop on the state of the nation's younger citizens, there's so much more pressing
news to sort through:
Paris Hilton's most recent dust-up with Nicole Richie.
This month's drug bust of former American Idol contestant Julia DeMato.
The insurgent popularity of the 13-year-old pop duo Prussian Blue—the Mary Kate
and Ashley of the white supremacy set—whose racist and hateful songs (such as
Sacrifice, a valentine to Nazi Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess) have already made them
regular fodder for the TV magazine shows.
Granted, it would be foolish to assume that the social do-goodism of a half-dozen
junior high school kids could ever compete for ink with Lindsay Lohan's latest late-
And yet the more we pigeonhole today's youth as hopelessly wayward—the more
we feed on TV and tabloid coverage of them that accentuates the negative—the
greater we risk creating the very monsters we fear.
Curiously, this reap-what-you-sow phenomenon lies at the foundation of parenting
"Kids...like to hear when they're on track, doing the right thing," writes psychologist
and family specialist Sarah Chana Radcliffe. "What you praise is what you get.
Unfortunately, what you criticize is also what you get, so be careful."
So how do we, as a nation, foster a better sense of optimism about our children
and, at the same time, enlighten the kids themselves to the better side of their
nature? For starters, we can closely monitor what kind of messages they're
bombarded with on a daily basis, and by this I don't mean just the old standbys—
the sexed-up music videos that blare from the TV, or the violent video games
booted up on the den PC. Even more menacing than these are the subtler themes
that creep into the child's world, often hidden within the Trojan horse of mainstream
For instance, with each new episode of Survivor they soak up, aren't we teaching
kids that duplicity and betrayal are character traits to be rewarded? For every
gratuitous tongue-lashing they hear delivered by American Idol judge Simon
Cowell, aren't we saying it's OK to be cruel? Doesn't The Apprentice tell them that
cutthroat is the only way to go?
These kinds of bad lessons often slip under our radar; and the real shame is,
there's something we can do about it. With all the creative brain power behind the
ever growing slate of reality shows that cram the nightly schedule, surely someone
could come up with a competition in which the winner isn't smugly glorified and the
loser miserably shamed. If a bureaucracy such as NASA can sponsor a $250,000
contest—as it did in September—or the creation of a workable "moon dirt" digger
for use in future space exploration, how hard would it be to crank out a reality show
that offers a similarly constructive contest for kids?
Ironically, the job of educating our children through television now falls primarily on
the shoulders of the mercilessly criticized PBS. Isn't it time for the networks to get
with the lesson plan, too, and perhaps offer something beyond junk food
programming? Who knows, they might even come up with a ratings winner.
As for me, my New Year's resolution is to begin tuning out the negativity and
focusing on what really matters. That's why, for Christmas, Santa surprised my 6-
year-old with Felicity, the Revolutionary War-era doll from the popular American Girl
collection. If the product name rings a bell, that's because in the weeks leading up
to the holiday, American Girl was all over the news, as fringe religious
conservatives boycotted the product line's parent company for its advocacy of
So I boycotted the boycott and bought the damn thing. Not only did my daughter
really want one, but the doll's accessories also include books about U.S. history;
and as a guy whose G.I. Joes came with nothing more than a trench helmet, a
plastic rifle and a tiny set of hand grenades, I find the book thing pretty positive.
As for my older daughter, I got her Creation's new CD. The tunes are catchy, but
the message is pure music.